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With blow-out win, Gophers on the bowl-berth bubble

MINNEAPOLIS — By virtue of their 54-21 blowout win over Nebraska on Saturday, the Gophers improved to 5-5 and are firmly on the college football bowl bubble. Well, as firmly as a thin layer of soap holding air can be while traveling through the atmosphere.

A week after a 33-10 shellacking by Michigan, and Gophers coach P.J. Fleck saying afterward his team was far from a worthy bowl team, Minnesota's beatdown of the Cornhuskers improves its stake. Some bowl projections now have them in; others are still keeping them out.

Before then, the Gophers will play No. 25 Northwestern, which has won five straight conference games to improve to 7-3, 5-2 Big Ten, at 11 a.m. Saturday in Evanston, Ill. Then, in the regular season finale, Minnesota hosts No. 8 Wisconsin, which at 10-0 and 7-0 in the Big Ten is now firmly in the conversation for a College Football Playoff spot.

If the Gophers don't pull off upsets, they will finish 5-7 — the same record that got them into the Quick Lane Bowl in 2015. Like under those circumstances, they need a lack of bowl-eligible teams (at least six wins) to get in. Hence, the bubble.

Brett McMurphy, a college football reporter for nearly 30 years, projected the Gophers to finish 5-7 and not get into a bowl game. After all the games were decided, his view didn't change much Sunday morning.

"Not really," McMurphy wrote in an email. "I projected the win vs. Nebraska, but have them losing the final two games. If so, then they'll have to hope they're aren't enough six-win teams to fill all the spots."

After the weekend, 59 programs are locked in for the 78 bowl berths, leaving 19 available spots. The Gophers and 20 other programs have five wins, and 22 other teams sit at four wins.

There's one fewer bowl this year, so two fewer berths for average teams. Then there's wild card Florida State.

The perennial power Seminoles are 3-6, but they have three winnable games remaining against Delaware State, also-struggling Florida and Louisiana-Monroe. While most teams have two games remaining, the Seminoles' third was a rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma in September.

The Gophers' prospects for a bowl seem to have increased, if there aren't enough six-win teams. The tiebreaker among 5-7 teams is multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR), and Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Duke are tied at 992. The next tiebreaker is single year APR, giving Vandy the edge as the potential first team in, with Duke next and the Gophers third.

But Vanderbilt (4-6) lost to Kentucky 44-21 on Saturday and faces Missouri and Tennessee, two teams also on the precipice of bowl berths, to finish the year. Missouri walloped Tennessee 50-17 on Saturday, and the Volunteers fired coach Butch Jones on Sunday.

Duke (4-6) lost its sixth straight game Saturday, 21-16 to Army, and will finish the campaign against Georgia Tech, another team fighting for a bowl berth, as well as Wake Forest, which qualified for a bowl on Saturday.

CBS' Sports Jerry Palm had Duke and Vandy receiving bowl berths before the weekend, with the Gophers out. That flipped Sunday morning. Palm penciled in the Gophers versus Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 27 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Before Saturday, Gophers players have stated a goal of going to a bowl and sending the seniors out with a chance for one last hurrah.

"We want to go to a bowl game," Gophers junior safety Jacob Huff, who had a career high 10 tackles against Nebraska, reiterated Saturday afternoon. "But that really wasn't the main goal to win this game or the next game. We are really just putting our heads down. We put ourselves in bad situations throughout the year, but right now we are just trusting the process."

In the previous two years, the bowl process has include six teams, including Minnesota, going to bowl games with sub-.500 records. The Gophers are riding that bubble again.

The Bowl Bubble

Five-win teams: 21

Gophers, Boston College, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky, Texas-San Antonio, Akron, Utah State, Oregon, California, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, Arkansas State, Temple, Missouri, Ole Miss, UCLA, Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech.

Four-win teams: 22

Nebraska, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, Tulane, Old Dominion, Syracuse, Pitt, Duke, Louisiana Tech, Miami (Ohio), Buffalo,Air Force, UNLV, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Louisiana, Louisiana Monroe, New Mexico State, South Alabama.

Key three-win team to watch:

Florida State.

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